Just to post a positive story as encouragement: herniated L4-L5 in July 08. Tried conservative treatments. Normally VERY active (all types of exercise >1hr/day), but was limited. Got worse in september. 3 failed ESI's, then since I couldn't even sleep at that point went for microdiscectomy. Immediately felt better. Was walking 1 hr/day (20min at a pop) by 1 week, back to work (physical job, without lifting) at 3 weeks, full work with lifting at 6 weeks. Now back to all activities. Just came back from skiing in Wyoming.
I do still have some residual "sciatic" type symptoms in both legs (herniation was a large central one) and some neuropathy in my feet (particularly at night), but boy, compared to before, I'll take it.
Not taking any meds (rx or OTC) though I did try various remedies for the neuropathy, but side effects were worse than symptoms: they made me kind of crazy.
I was helped tremendously by these boards prior to my surgery, and wanted to leave feedback after an appropriate time to assess my response.